New U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Task Force Targets Environmental Crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has formed a new task force that is focusing specifically on environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to a DOJ press release, the goal of forming the task force is “[e]nvironmental justice and ensuring that all residents of Puerto Rico [and the U.S. Virgin Islands] enjoy a healthy environment free of hazardous waste and other pollutants . . . and equal access to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, play and work.”
But, while this may be the ultimate goal, the most immediate practical effect of the task force’s formation is aggressive criminal prosecution. On the same day the DOJ announced the formation of the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force, it also announced the indictments of two individuals who are charged with committing environmental crimes in Puerto Rico. As summarized in another press release:
“According to the indictments, from approximately January 2020 through October 2022, [the defendants] knowingly discharged fill material from excavation and earth moving equipment into the wetlands and waters of the United States in violation of the Clean Water Act. Further, both [defendants] are charged with building structures within the navigable waters of the United States without authorization of the Secretary of the Army, in violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act. These activities occurred in the coastal waters and wetlands of the Las Mareas community and [Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve] in Salinas, Puerto Rico.”
Since the investigation that led to these indictments preceded the formation of the DOJ’s Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force, we anticipate a much more focused effort to prosecute alleged environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the years to come. Individuals and businesses that are implicated in these crimes will need experienced legal representation, and engaging an experienced federal defense firm promptly will be critical for avoiding unnecessary consequences.
Experienced Federal Defense Counsel for Individuals and Businesses Charged with Environmental Crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Our federal defense lawyers are available to represent individuals and businesses charged with environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We have extensive experience representing clients at all stages of the federal criminal justice process, from investigations through trials and appeals. We have successfully defended clients in matters involving a wide range of federal agencies and task forces, and we have resolved the majority of our clients’ federal criminal investigations without charges being filed.
When you contact The Criminal Defense Firm for representation in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, we will arrange for you to speak with one of our senior lawyers one-on-one as soon as possible. If you engage our firm to represent you or your business, we will then get to work building and executing your (or your business’s) defense immediately. We will communicate with the federal government’s agents and lawyers on your behalf, and we will help you avoid costly mistakes while we work to resolve the government’s inquiry as quickly and favorably as possible. Whether this means intervening in the government’s investigation, working to avoid an indictment, or defending against environmental crime charges at trial, we will rely on our experience to provide efficient and effective legal representation.
Are You Under Investigation for Environmental Crimes in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands?
If you are under investigation (or if your business is under investigation) for alleged environmental crimes in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you need to engage defense counsel immediately. How do you know if the government is investigating your (or your business’s) practices in Puerto Rico or the USVI? Any direct or indirect contact from the DOJ’s Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force is a sign of potential legal trouble. This includes contact from agents or lawyers working for any of the following federal entities, all of which have appointed members to the DOJ’s Task Force:
- Army Criminal Investigation Division (Army CID)
- Army Corps of Engineers
- Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (DOA OIG)
- Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (DOC OIG)
- Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Investigations (DHS HSI)
- Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG)
- Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA CID)
- Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General (EPA OIG)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA OCI)
- Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General (HUD OIG)
- IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE)
- U.S. Coast Guard – Sector San Juan (USCG San Juan)
- U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (USCG IS)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
Through their involvement with the DOJ’s Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force, these federal entities are targeting individuals and businesses for a wide range of alleged environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the USVI. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Air and water quality violations
- Fraud, waste, and abuse affecting EPA and DOC programs
- Harm to wetlands or navigable waters
- Harm to wildlife (including pesticide misuse)
- Hazardous material transportation violations
- Marine environmental violations
- Oil and chemical spill violations
- Unlawful use of (or damage to) federal marine resources
- Violations involving medications, foods, cosmetics, and other biological products
- Violations involving public corruption
- Violations involving workplace and housing conditions
Convictions for Environmental Crimes in Puerto Rico and the USVI Can Lead to Substantial Penalties
The DOJ is targeting individuals and businesses for these violations under a long list of federal criminal statutes. These statutes impose substantial penalties, with the specific risks in any particular case depending on the scope of the DOJ’s prosecution. Generally, federal environmental crimes carry six or seven-figure fines for both individuals and businesses, and individuals can face years or decades of federal imprisonment as well. The DOJ can also ask the federal courts to enjoin unlawful activities, including violative construction, dumping, agricultural, and manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
FAQs: Facing Allegations of Environmental Crimes in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands
What laws is the U.S. government using to prosecute environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?
The U.S. government is using several laws to prosecute environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some examples of the laws that the DOJ and EPA are using to target environmental crimes in the region include:
- Clean Air Act (CAA) and Clean Water Act (CWA)
- Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- False Claims Act (FCA)
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
- Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
- Pollution Prevention Act (PPA)
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
- Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA)
- Shore Protection Act (SPA)
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
Along with these statutes, the DOJ is prosecuting individuals and businesses for other general federal crimes as well. These include conspiracy, money laundering, government fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion—among others. These crimes all carry substantial fines and years or decades of federal prison time.
What should I do if I have been contacted by the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force?
If you have been contacted by the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force, you should speak with a federal defense lawyer immediately. This is a new task force that the DOJ established in 2023 specifically to target environmental crimes in the region. The task force is aggressively pursuing criminal charges against individuals and businesses, and these charges can lead to substantial fines and long-term imprisonment.
How do I know if I (or my business) is under investigation for environmental crimes in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands?
In many cases, you won’t know that you (or your business) are the subject of a federal environmental crimes investigation until the investigation is already well underway. As a result, once you get contacted by federal authorities, you need to engage experienced federal defense counsel immediately. At this point, the clock is ticking, and you need to work quickly to implement a strategic defense.
What law firms handle environmental crime cases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?
There are relatively few law firms that handle environmental crime cases in Puerto Rico and the USVI. At The Criminal Defense Firm, we have the resources needed to handle these challenging and high-risk cases. Our lawyers can get to work on your case immediately, and we can rely on our extensive experience in federal criminal cases to protect you (or your business) by all means available.
Do environmental crimes carry prison time in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?
Yes, environmental crimes committed in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands carry prison time under federal law. Depending on the specific charges involved, prison sentences can range from a few years to decades behind bars.
Speak with a Senior Federal Defense Lawyer at The Criminal Defense Firm
If you need to know more about defending against an environmental crime investigation or facing environmental crime charges in Puerto Rico or the USVI, we invite you to get in touch. To speak with a senior federal defense lawyer at The Criminal Defense Firm in confidence, call 866-603-4540 or request an appointment online now.